Archive for February, 2009

Jindal 2012 (cont.)

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Michael Gerson in the Washington Post reveals both Bobby Jindal’s greatest asset as a politician and his greatest weakness. The strength is Jindal’s religiousity – which is Catholic but in a way that is unusually endearing to evangelicals, the Republican base:

In Louisiana, Jindal is the darling of evangelical and charismatic churches, where he often tells his conversion story. One Louisiana Republican official has commented, “People think of Bobby Jindal as one of us.” Consider that a moment. In some of the most conservative Protestant communities, in one of the most conservative states in America, Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, a strong Catholic with parents from Punjab, is considered “one of us.”

In passing, Gerson mentions that sometimes it might seem that Jindal lacks, “a lack of human connection and organizing vision.”

The “lack of human connection” is main complaint against Jindal. He’s seen as cold, calculating, and unempathetic – indifferent to those hurt by the policies he advocates.

A Summary of the Civil Libertarian Case for a “War” Against Terrorism

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Liberals and those concerned about civil liberties should embrace the term “war” and policies consistent with some form of a war against terrorism. Bush’s War on Terror has largely discredited this idea because he abused the term, used it as a political wedge issue, and used it as a cloak for his attempts to remove checks to his power. But Obama has a chance to create a framework for a rational and effective war against terrorism – by redefining the aims of this war from aggrandizing the power of the president to preserving the rule of law and our way of life.

Bush’s War on Terror too quickly evolved from a struggle against terrorism to an attack on the rule of law and on any other checks on the president’s power – a war planned in advance of September 11, but justified in the aftermath by a fear of terrorism. The goal of this war was to ensure maximum flexibility for the executive to act which distracted the president from determining and taking the most effective actions. Bush focused on whether he could use torture rather than on whether torture was effective; he wanted the power to detain any individual without any oversight – without taking into account that this would hurt our war aims; he wanted the authority to wiretap and otherwise intercept communications without any limits, and so he authorized the commission of felonies based on a wacky legal theory that expanded his power rather than asking the law to be changed. Bush declared War on Terror but waged war on any checks to his power.

Obama must continue to fight the Wars Against Terrorism1 while reversing Bush’s war against checks on presidential power. Obama must focus on strengthening our society and its’ instutions (including our civil liberties and the rule of law); he must take measures to protect America from catastrophic events and attacks; and he must focus on creating resilient structures that can bounce back after an attack.

Some have asked if war is the right model to achieve these goals. They usually suggest a law enforcement approach instead.

I believe war is the right approach – as war is how a society has always responded to violent existential threats. Terrorism is such a threat. The term war has evolved over time to cover different state responses to these violent existential threats – and in this case it must evolve again. As part of our strategic approach to this war, we must aim to preserve the rule of law and create a more resilient society after an attack. 

At the same time, civil libertarians should realize that if we were to declare the war over, we would leave our society’s values vulnerable in the aftermath of the next attack – as perhaps, Americans shaken and vulnerable, seek a return to war footing, as they sought after September 11, and those liberties granted in peacetime will be once again revoked.

Instead, we must continue this war; but rather instead of seeing the rule of law as an obstacle, preserving it must be our fundamental war aim.

  1. I think the term “War on Terror” is misleading and vague. We need a new formulation. I’m not crazy about “Wars Against Terrorism” but for the moment, it’s the best I’ve got. It conveys both the multiple fronts of the war as well as the primary enemy, a tactic that strikes at the Achilles heel of our society. []

Ross Douthat’s Snap Judgment

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Up and coming conservative (and big Jindal fan) Ross Douthat’s snap judgment from Tuesday night of Bobby Jindal’s response to Obama’s not quite State of the Union:

If that’s the best the Right has to offer as a rebuttal to Obama, American liberalism is going to be running untouched down the field for years to come.

Former Drug Czar McCaffrey Doesn’t Care If Marijuana Is Legalized

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

QUESTIONER: …[W]hy not just legalize drugs?

Former Drug Czar, General BARRY MCCAFFREY (retired): …[S]ince I’m not in public life, [I can say] I actually don’t care.  I care about 6th graders through 12th graders.  If you’re 40 years old, and you’re living in Oregon, and you have 12 giant pot plants in the back of your log cabin, knock yourself out.

Discussing Mexico and US drug policy at the Council on Foreign Relations on February 23, 2009.

General McCaffrey as drug czar vehemently opposed medical marijuana; he accelerated the militarization of the Drug War in Columbia and Mexico; and during his time as drug czar, arrests for marijuana possession soared above those for harder drugs (See graph on page 3 of pdf). After years of failure to dent domestic demand for drugs, this chief drug warrior now admits he doesn’t care if drugs are legalized and that he sees nothing wrong with growing your own marijuana. It is incredible that someone could pursue the policies he did – and now state that he either didn’t or doesn’t strongly believe drugs should be illegal. 

Two weeks ago, another group of former drug warriors produced a report describing the failure of America’s prohibitionist policy in Latin America and in the United States:

Prohibitionist policies based on the eradication of production and on the disruption of drug flows as well as on the criminalization of consumption have not yielded the expected results. We are farther than ever from the announced goal of eradicating drugs…

Current drug repression policies are firmly rooted in prejudices, fears and ideological visions…

[T]he available empirical evidence shows that the harm caused by [marijuana] is similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. More importantly, most of the damage associated with cannabis use – from the indiscriminate arrest and incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption that affect all of society – is the result of the current prohibitionist policies.

From Drugs and Democracy, a report by César Gaviria (former president of Columbia), Ernesto Zedillo (former president of Mexico), Fernando Henrique Cardoso (former president of Brazil) and numerous other prominent Latin American figures released February 11, 2009.

As former Governor William Weld recently explained:

There’s no one so brave and wise as the politician who’s not running for office and who’s not going to be.

It is notable that so many of our prominent politicians reveal after they leave office that they don’t really agree with the premise of the War on Drugs – a war which is consuming billions of dollars, waging war on our citizenry, jailing a higher percentage of our citizens than any other nation, destabilizing our neighbors, competing with and undermining anti-terrorism measures, and making America less safe

Instead, the best our current leaders offer is to soften the roughest edges of the Drug War on American citizens.1

Obama has taken a number of sensible positions on Drug War issues – but he has not publicly acknowledged what most informed observers can see – that the War on Drugs has failed, is wasting money, and making us less safe. It is inconceivable that a reflective, informed policy-maker such as Obama does not realize this as well.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to tell all of the favor-seekers who came to impress upon him the importance of certain issues:

I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it.

In other words, we must put pressure on Obama if the hopes of reform advocates and Obama administration insiders are to be realized.

(more…)

  1. Yes, I know about the San Francisco Assemblymen Ammiano introduced a bill in California to legalize marijuana and tax it – but he’s clearly the exception. Texas Congressman Ron Paul would be another exception. []

The only thing worse than spam is self-righteous spam.

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I received a notification on my Facebook account today that one of my friends created a “multimedia message.”

As with so many Facebook applications, it required you to allow the program access to your profile information. Annoying, but it’s the way they all work. I just make sure to keep any important information private.

I click through and get this message – the yellow line added to the original for emphasis:

Spam sending me the message that: “Facebook has so many spammers.”  

The only thing worse than spam is self-righteous spam.

Spam at its best is a kind of poetry:

Stop worrying about your pleasuring ability!
We have so speedy delivery that even today you can make girl feel your passionate fire.

0rder V a l 1 u m #3546
Dear Tommy,
All the m e d s you search for

hail! The day of Love
Have women telling their friends about you!

I wish to find my destiny!
This letter is not a spam one.
Yesterday I myself was amazed too,
when saw your letter in my e-mail box.
The letter was about love and sensations among people.
The motto of the letter was like this «search for love and you’ll become happy».
I liked this letter very much.
Definitely, I will send you some of my photographs.
It will help you to understand who I am and where I live.
My photos will reveal all parts of my life – my happiness, my pensiveness and sometimes melancholy.
Remember of me.
Your new friend,
Anastasiya.

We specialize in top quality
ReplicaWatches.
Swiss engineering,
precision crafted time pieces are perfect gifts.
These products are not cheap imitations,
they are GenuineRep1icas!

Bad poetry perhaps. But funny and obvious. Of course this application decides to be all smug and it sends out notifications to a random 10 people on your Friends list:

The developer page for the program lists a “Carla Watson” as the developer:

Somebody should punch this woman in the back of the head for me if she developed this smug Facebook spam program.

Bobby Jindal’s Soapbox (cont.)

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

The New York Times explains what was going on with the “strings” that Bobby Jindal was complaining about on Sunday’s Meet the Press:

States that accept the stimulus money aimed at the unemployed are required to abide by new federal rules that extend unemployment protections to low-income workers and others who were often shorted or shut out of compensation. This law did not just materialize out of nowhere. It codified positive changes that have already taken place in at least half the states.

To qualify for the first one-third of federal aid, the states need to fix arcane eligibility requirements that exclude far too many low-income workers. To qualify for the rest of the aid, states have to choose from a menu of options that include extending benefits to part-time workers or those who leave their jobs for urgent family reasons, like domestic violence or gravely ill children.

Preparing For A Summer of Rage

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Those in power are clearly nervous about what will happen if this crisis continues to deepen. British police are predicting that 2009 will be a “summer of rage” as middle-class anger at the economic crisis erupts into violence on the streets of Great Britain. Protest organizers are claiming that the police are merely trying to prepare the public for more brutal put-downs of protests by the police – but even this in itself indicates a nervousness on the part of the police, a fear that protests will get out of control. 

At the same time, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the powerful inside player in Washington since he was National Security Advisor under Jimmy Carter, warned on MSNBC that this recession could lead to riots in America:

[T]here is public awareness of this extraordinary wealth that was transferred to a few individuals at levels without historical precedent in America . . . And you sort of say to yourself: what’s going to happen in this society when these people are without jobs, when their families hurt, when they lose their homes, and so forth?

…[T]here’s going to be growing conflict between the classes and if people are unemployed and really hurting, hell, there could be even riots.

The financial crisis has already lead to the increasing instability, civil unrest, and conflict in Russia, Pakistan, Mexico, and throughout the world – all of this during the normally dormant winter months.

It was often said that China’s government was only able to remain in power and maintain stability if the economy was growing at a fast enough rate. It’s beginning to be clear that this is true for most of the world’s governments. As I wrote before:

As long as American citizens have their basic needs met and a reasonable opportunity to succeed, they will accept a polarized distribution of wealth, corruption of various sorts, and sundry other injustices. And as long as the Chinese citizens are moving towards having their basic needs met and have a reasonable opportunity to succeed, they will accept a single-party state, restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, and other restrictions.

Any state’s constitutional structure is legitimated by whether it provides for the needs of it’s people. In another age, the state merely provided security against hostile invasions and criminals; later, it provided an identity as well; by the middle of the 20th century, a state was legitimated by the extent to which it could provide for the basic needs of it’s citizens. The Cold War was, to a large degree, a competition between the capitalist states and the Communists states to see which could provide more ably for the needs of it’s citizens. Today, the state is evolving from providing for the needs of it’s citizens to providing opportunities for it’s citizens.

We are now facing the spectre of rapidly increasing unemployment and diminished opportunities for millions accustomed to a rising standard of living. A prolonged depression, or even a slowing in growth, in a market-state undermines the government’s legitimacy and society’s stability, perhaps to the breaking point.

Many of the world’s societies are only peaceful and stable to the extent that their people believe they can improve their lot in life, or their children’s lot. The opiate of the masses is no longer religion – it is hope, the expectation of better things to come grounded in expanding individual opportunity. This financial crisis may test what happens when this opiate is removed.

The Partisan Eruption During Obama’s State of the Union

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I thought this was the most interesting moment in yesterday’s speech – as the partisan feelings of the Republicans erupted, and then were responded to by the Democrats.

Throughout the speech, Obama seemed to want to talk through partisan lines, trying to minimize the applause. But here the Republicans took the first half of an Obama antimonic device and interrupted his speech – their only real excitement of the night. They seemed to relish in the fact that Obama was “admitting” that the deficit was a worthy issue, jeering. Of course, Obama has planned to pivot to the deficit and entitlement spending all along – speaking of a forthcoming Grand Bargain even before he took office. In the end, this demonstration made the Republicans look rather petty. But then, as Obama completed his antimonic device, stating that the enormous deficit was “inherited,” the Democrats took advantage of their opportunity to pettily respond to the Republican jeering.

This exchange captures the dynamic of Obama’s Washington so far – as Republicans and Democrats jeer each other and posture against one another while Obama tries to explain what he’s doing and to get a serious response.

Schwarzeneger Demonstrates the Idiocy of Anti-Partisanship

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Arnold Schwarzeneger brilliantly demonstrated the idiocy of postpartisanship in his appearance on This Week:

The policy position Schwarzeneger is defending here makes a lot of sense – as you can see if you check out a more in-depth clip. But his justification is typical of the conventional definition of postpartisanship (and it’s close cousin, bipartisanship). I tried to make a distinction during the election battle between a “bipartisan McCain” and a “postpartisan Obama.” I described the difference between the tactic of bipartisanship which ” is about compromise, getting things done, protecting the status quo, and consenus” and postpartisanship which is “a specific approach to governing that calls for bi-partisanship as a tactic to neutralize certain issues while advocating common sense, a focus on the long-term, and an emphasis on ‘tinkering’ to deal with more significant issues.” I think this distinction still makes sense but the terms are so often used by politicians seeking political cover that defining them almost seems pointless.

So, I’m making here an additional distinction – between anti-partisanship and post-partisanship. A significant amount of the rhetoric about partisanship, bipartisanship, and postpartisanship by politicians is really about anti-partisanship. McCain claimed he was being “bipartisan” because he vocally opposed some of his party’s positions. His whole maverick persona was based on his bucking of his party on certain issues. On these issues, McCain became a partisan for the Democratic positions. Joe Lieberman who also claims the mantle of “bipartisanship” has a similar political profile – as he likewise became a partisan for the Republicans on those issues on which he agreed with them. The more appropriate description of this attitude is not “bipartisan” but anti-partisan. It is not about reaching across ideological or party lines – but about rejecting one’s own party or team. Similarly, Schwarzeneger here states that if both parties oppose something, it must be good for the people. This is an insight into the anti-partisan mindset – that views parties themselves as perverting democracy.

There is an essential truth to this anti-partisan idea. Glenn Greenwald, a prominent liberal partisan, for example admits that “no party has a monopoly on good ideas and there’s nothing wrong with compromising with the other party when doing so yields superior policies.”  Schwarzeneger makes a similar point in the longer clip, and Obama has made this point prominently as well:

I’m a Democrat. I’m considered a progressive Democrat. But if a Republican or a Conservative or a libertarian or a free-marketer has a better idea, I am happy to steal ideas from anybody and in that sense I’m agnostic.

While everyone seems to agree that partisanship can be limiting and blinding – and that we should be willing to take the best ideas of our opponents – there is less agreement on what the right approach should be. Greenwald, an unabashed partisan, included the caveat: “bipartisanship for its own sake elevates process over substance.” He frequently rails against bipartisanship which he often sees as a cover for Democrats to cave in to Republican instransigience. And he certainly has a point – as any look at the Democrats in Congress under George W. Bush will reveal. Governor Schwarzeneger sees partisanship as his enemy – and he often takes on Republicans with the support of Democrats and vice versa. From the clip above, you get a sense of his approach.

And then you have Barack Obama. He clearly sees the problem with partisanship; yet he has not adopted the anti-partisan approach of McCain and Schwarzeneger. He almost always favors liberal and progressive policies – and rarely rejects his party to work with Republican partisans. But he does work with Republican partisans – he seeks common ground, civil dialogue, and an engagement with the ideologies that motivate the Republican party. You can see this in his initial health care plan – which did not inclued a mandate due to a desire to limit government coercion. You can see this in the tax cuts that made up more than a third of his stimulus bill. You can see this in his pivoting towards entitlement reform and a plan to reduce the deficit. You can see this in his overall approach to the financial crisis – which is clearly Keynesian, but leavened a Hayekian acknowledgment of the limits of economics and central planning.

Obama’s post-partisanship is a flexible and pragmatic set of beliefs in honest engagement with those beliefs that oppose them. He does not define his politics by standing in between the parties or against one party of another. Rather, he is an unabashed liberal who takes conservative critiques of liberalism into account, and who continues to seek civil dialogue and engagement with his opponents. Greenwald criticized Obama’s approach to partisanship for being about process – and it is about process – but that is it’s value rather than it’s shortcoming.

Mechanical Economics

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker:

[Obama] recently characterized his team as a group of “mechanics,” which suggests an emphasis not on ideology but on details and problem-solving.

Makes me think I was onto something